The Department of Health and Human Services presented a $1.8 million plan this week that would staff Child Protective Services around the clock. Safe staffing has long been a concern for Child Protective Service Workers (CPSWs), and not just in the evening hours.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, Child Protection Services is only staffed during business hours, so cases that come up after hours are often initially handled by local authorities. That’s where this proposal comes in. But Child Protection Services has already been spread thin; plainly, there’s not enough staff and time in the day to do the work that needs to get done.
“We’re spread so thin, that it’s like we’re doing triage — going in and making sure children are safe right now,” said Demetrios Tsaros, a CPSW in Manchester. “It’s not how we want to be doing work, but we’re doing as much as we can with the staffing and resources we have.”
Tsaros said Child Protection Services has faced a perfect storm of sorts in the last few years. For example, in his district office Tsaros said the opioid crisis led to an increase in cases of children being removed. Over a period of months, a number of workers left, leaving the office short-handed. Then, several high-profile cases put the agency under a microscope. With the work being so closely and publicly scrutinized, others have left.
“The actual number of cases being screened in went up by 17 percent,” he said. “So you had a system that was already at its max, then you have people leaving and the volume of cases increasing by double digits.”
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 President Rich Gulla said in an initial analysis of the report, there were some positive takeaways, but there are still concerns.
“It’s encouraging to us that the department is talking about a solution, and this report notes the caseload issues that CPSWs face,” Gulla said. “However, we’re concerned that the plan will fall short of what’s needed and create additional strain on an agency that’s already spread too thin.”
Tsaros is among a group of SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members who has been working to help establish safe workload standards for the department, and he and other CPSWs have been meeting to talk about the challenges they face — with both staffing and technology — and try to offer suggestions on a path forward (that group is set to meet with the commission reviewing child abuse fatalities).
For Tsaros, what it comes down to is making sure the department has done all it can to get the resources to do the job it’s tasked with.
“We all want to do our jobs well, but we can only do as well as the resources allow us to do,” he said.